Spending a week along the Rhône in France. Traveling up the river from Marseille, through historic Avignon, Arles, the Roman city of Vienne and ending up in Lyon, France’s culinary heart. This trip included time visiting the Beaujolais wine region and a number of quaint Provençal villages.
Located north of Lyon in eastern France, Beaujolais overlaps Burgundy in the north and Rhône in the south. The Beaujolais vineyards are located along the Saône River, where French winemakers have crafted delicious, fruity wines since the times of the Ancient Romans. It is said that the Romans taught the French tribes how to make wine but the French perfected the process.
Today the region is known world wide for its long tradition of winemaking, and more recently for the popular Beaujolais nouveau. The village of Beaujeu is the heart of the region and where Beaujolais gets its name. The French tradition is to name a region after a central town. This region is famous for its growing conditions with lots of sunshine and its granite-based soils lending a unique character to their wines. The Gamay grape is used to make all Beaujolais wines with the exception of white Beaujolais, or Beaujolais blanc, which is made of Chardonnay grapes.
Most of the harvesting is made manually in the Beaujolais region. Handpicking means entire bunches are vatted to allow a specific kind of maceration. This winemaking is unique to the Beaujolais region.
The signature Beaujolais nouveau is a red wine is produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It is the most popular vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks before being released for sale on the third Thursday of November. This ‘Beaujolais Nouveau Day’ is recognized everywhere, with races to get the first bottles to different markets around the globe.
Traveling through the hilly Beaujolais we were struck by the shear number of acres devoted to vineyards. From whole hillsides down to small backyard vineyards, grapes are growing everywhere and most everything seems to involve wine. We visited the Chateau de Varennes (facebook HERE) for a wine tasting. It’s an estate that is listed as a “VMF Historic Heritage” site and has been in the same family since 1809 with some buildings dating back to the 11th Century. The Château itself is a beautiful period castle from the 16th century, in the heart of vineyards and overlooking the Samson valley. It’s a beautiful location with panoramic terrace views and an impressive Renaissance entry court.